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Dr Walther Richter, Austria
Candidate for the post of Deputy Secretary-General

Question 1
Many consider that the ITU is threatened by the upheavals of the telecommunication industry. New organizations such as the WTO or regional bodies take center-stage and industry fora that are less formal and more focused multiply. What future do you see for the ITU? What would be your personal contribution (what initiatives/focus would you bring) as elected official to bringing innovation and fostering the adaptation of the Union to the driving forces of change so as to keep the ITU a pre-eminent forum for international telecommunications?

I see the future of the ITU brighter than ever before – if only it can adapt to the new set-up of the telecommunications industry. Today’s thousands of network operators and equipment manufacturers, providing a multitude of new services on a global scale, require world-wide standards and agreements more urgently than ever. If the ITU, the only telecommunications organisation with universal membership, did not exist there would be an urgent need to create it.

If elected Deputy Secretary-General, I shall co-operate with the other Elected Officials to re-position the ITU as the unique forum for discussing and agreeing on all telecommunication matters of global relevance. This includes standards, radiocommunication matters, operating issues, regulation and technical co-operation. I shall also co-operate to strengthen the ITU’s singular role as the world’s centre of exchange of telecommunication information through exhibitions, fora and the issue of pertinent publications including benchmarks. To this end, I plan to use a great deal of initiative to persuade all those regional and industrial organisations whose work is of relevance to the functioning of the global telecommunication network not only co-operate with the ITU but also to become actively involved in its work. This involves both their taking part in all relevant meetings and conferences, their making competent staff available and their participation in the governance of the Union.

My first specific contribution will be based on my intimate understanding of the interests and needs of network operators. Being the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Austrian incumbent operator which runs a network with more than five million subscribers in its fixed and mobile networks and Chairman of the General Assembly 1998 of the European Public Network Operators’ Organisation (ETNO) with its 41 members from 33 States I have had the opportunity to meet a large number of top managers from other operators and to discuss their interests with them. This places me in a unique position: Having already worked for the ITU for nine years I have a thorough knowledge of what the ITU can do, and being now CEO of an operator myself plus the many contacts with my colleagues from other operators enable me to know precisely what operators want from the ITU. I can thus match their interests with the ITU’s strengths and in this way pave the way for the network operators to participate in their own interest actively in the ITU.

My second focus will be finalising of the work I did at the ITU as Senior Economist. A global network of scientists and practitioners proved at that time the importance and impact of telecommunications on development. The result of that work was recognised by many developing countries and development agencies (including the European Union, which created the one billion-dollar Star Programme) through an increased focus on telecommunications development. However, the management of the ITU believed after the Telecom Forum 1987 that by then everybody understood the importance of telecommunications for development. This may then have been true, but it is no longer so. I shall support the Director of the Bureau of Telecommunication Development upon his request to convince those who still hesitate to invest in the networks of developing countries (development agencies, manufacturers, operators of industrialised countries and others) that such an investment generates an enormous return.

To this end I shall invite large companies that normally promote consumer products or organise publicity events to prepare a world-wide information campaign showing convincingly the importance of telecommunications for development. I trust that these companies would do this free of charge, given that it is for a good cause and under the assumption that it will help their own publicity as well. If it is possible to attract the attention of billions of people for Olympic Games or a soccer World Cup there can be no doubt that it is by similar means possible to focus the interest of governments and development agencies on the social and economic value of telecommunications.

Thirdly, I shall support the Secretary-General, if he so wishes, in managing the resources of the Union. As General Manager directing more than 20,000 staff, I widened my management skills also in those areas which are of particular importance for the ITU, i.e. personnel, budget, information services and the organisation of conferences.

Question 2
In today’s telecommunication environment, it is no longer realistic to believe that the Union can be the focal point for all matters relating to telecommunications in the global information economy and society. The world is now too complex and telecommunications too pervasive for a single organization to be the focus of all issues of concern to the international community. What do you consider to be the core competencies of the ITU? What issues should ITU focus on and what could be phased out of ITU’s mandate or left to regional/sub-regional organizations? What should be ITU’s role in telecommunication sector reform?

I consider the ITU’s core competencies to be

The ITU should focus only on matters which fall within its core competencies:

The ITU should phase out or leave to regional/sub-regional organisations all matters which are not of global scope, unless some Members request the Union to become, within its general mandate, active in one of those areas and reimburse the ITU’s cost. Examples of such activities are seminars about technologies having relevance to only a certain region, or statistics about the direction of traffic between countries of the same area. To avoid any misunderstanding, activities which are of a global nature but which are performed on a regional basis are not proposed to be phased out. (For instance: regional statistical publications which, collectively, give a coherent picture of the world’s telecommunication situation, or regional Telecom exhibitions and fora which allow access to the world’s telecommunication know-how to a much wider audience than would the Geneva Telecom events alone.)

The ITU’s role in the reform of the telecommunication sector needs to be limited to information exchange because the legal restructuring, if any, of a country’s telecommunication system is a national matter in which the ITU cannot become active. This is especially true because telecommunication regulations need to be adapted to a country’s specific legal, economic and social environment to be "optimal" for the given situation. Nevertheless, the ITU has in this context an eminent role to play by providing a platform where information can be freely exchanged not only about regulatory texts and procedures but also about the effects of the various regulatory approaches.

In particular, the ITU’s role should be to:

  • Document the sector reform activities all over the world
  • Collect all available information about the effects of the various sector reforms throughout the world
  • Make all information relating to sector reform available to all ITU Members in such a form that finding appropriate information is easy and that comparisons can readily be made
  • Arrange global meetings for regulators to allow them to meet personally and to exchange ideas. These meetings should, however, produce only reports about sector reform activities and their effects rather than suggested guidelines.

Question 3
Recent ITU conferences have shown that the requirements of global networks and national sovereign rights are increasingly on a collision course. How can they be reconciled in an ITU context?

Compromise solutions to the conflict of interests involving particularly operators of the emerging commercial global satellite networks and national sovereign rights can undoubtedly best be found through the ITU. With its global membership, the Union is the only place where the concerns of the various parties can be voiced loudly enough to be heard world-wide, and where unreasonable demands can be identified as such and rejected in a way which will be accepted by everybody. The reconciliation of the interests itself requires a two-step approach. The ITU Member States have at first to agree on the principles to which everybody in this field has to adhere. These principles form the basis on which each dispute can then be settled.

My prize-winning article "Wanted: a Satellite Communications Board to sort out the ISOs" in INTERMedia, August/September 1994 makes a detailed proposal of how a specialised Board could balance the interests of the operators of commercial international satellite networks with those of States which see their national sovereign rights threatened.

Question 4
Demands on the organization are increasing faster than its resources: deregulation brings more players on the scene and, in turn, more members in the ITU; on the other hand, the financial foundation of the organization is eroding because of the smaller number of contributory units chosen by members. Various proposals to strengthen the ITU including cost-recovery and revenue-generation options have met stiff resistance as did the proposal to grant the industry a greater say in the allocation of resources and in the setting of priorities in exchange for a more important share in the expenses. What would you advocate as the way forward?

It has in the end always proven fatal to try to deny formal decision-making powers to those who decide in reality with their purse. In my view there can be no doubt that all those who directly benefit from the work of the Sectors of the Union have not only to share both the cost of these Sectors and that of the General Secretariat, but also the corresponding power of decision: governments, operators, manufacturers and regulators. The only question that has to be solved is how to distribute both the basic cost of the Union and decision-making powers among all its Members.

I advocate allowing a self-assessment of the number of contributory units, subject only to a certain minimum threshold for commercial entities. In return, I support a representation of all groups in both the Plenipotentiary Conference and the Council based on the shares which each group is contributing to the Union’s budget.

The membership fee should cover each Member’s participation in meetings and conferences. Each Member should get all of the Union’s products free of charge in quantities that correspond to his number of contributory units. Additional copies of publications (on paper, diskettes or CD-ROMs) would require an additional contribution to the expenses of the ITU.

Question 5
Given the broad membership of the organization (vendors, scientific organizations, service providers, broadcasters in countries from the poorest of the planet to the most powerful nations), how can the organization address their competing needs in a cost-effective way?

The various Members of the Union compete for its scarce financial resources. If my proposal is accepted that all who benefit from the Union’s work should bear the related cost, there will no longer be any such competition.

It is in this context important for the ITU to be able to calculate the cost for the various activities. As I propose that those who both decide and benefit from the work of the Union should pay the related cost, it is easy to ask for the necessary funding if any group wants additional work done. Budgets are normally prepared when the work programme for a forthcoming period is discussed, but can be adjusted in case of need. If, say, the manufacturers and the operators want to place a special emphasis on standardisation in the field of fixed-mobile convergence, they simply need to be informed of the related cost. Competition for resources within the ITU is thus eliminated.

Question 6
The 1995-1999 Strategic Plan said "At present, the ITU is surely one of the least known international organizations, in spite of the fact that the development of the global telecommunication network is increasingly vital to the welfare of humanity. The Members of the Union have asked it to play a leadership role in the international community. To do this, the ITU must communicate its message more effectively than it does at present, to ensure that governments are aware of the importance of telecommunications as a tool for social and economic development". What concrete steps would you take to fulfill this objective, what would be your "Communication" agenda?

During the 1980’s the ITU engaged seriously in the study of the "Social and Economic Benefits of Telecommunications for Development" and issued a series of findings. As the Senior Economist at that time I was instrumental in this work and personally published several articles. In addition, ITU officials presented at various conferences the proof that the economic return of investments in telecommunications in developing countries is about 100 per cent and thus much higher than for most other investment for development. Many countries were influenced by this conclusion, especially after the European Commission had – based on the study results of the ITU – spent more than one billion dollars to support advanced telecommunications in underprivileged areas of the European Union (Star Programme). Thereafter, in 1987, the General Secretariat of the ITU took the view that the importance of telecommunications for development was sufficiently understood and that no further work was necessary to convince decision-makers. As it has turned out since then, something still needs to be done.

I shall invite big companies that normally promote consumer products or are competent in other publicity matters to prepare a world-wide information campaign showing the importance of telecommunications for development to governments and development agencies convincingly. I assume that these companies will do this free of charge, given that it is for a good cause and given that it will help their own publicity as well.

Question 7
What would be your top three priorities for the period up to the next Plenipotentiary Conference?

1. Making use of my contacts, my reputation and my credibility as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the dominant network operator of Austria and the senior figure in the European Public Network Operators’ Association’s 1998 organisation chart, I shall convince the world’s network operators that it is most beneficial for them to be members of the ITU.

2. Taking advantage of my thorough knowledge of the subject, I shall actively participate in convincing governments and funding organisations of the eminent importance of telecommunications for social and economic development.

3. My personal experience as CEO of an operator with five million subscribers has covered telecommunication regulation, corporate management, privatisation and search for strategic partners both for fixed line and mobile networks. I would seek to share this experience especially with governments, other CEOs and Managing Directors.

Question 8
Any other message you would like to communicate?

In a world where economic borders are disintegrating, any telecommunication standard which is not global is actually an anti-standard, hindering easy and cheap communication between the world’s people. Unfortunately, we see at present the development of so-called regional standards that are often nothing else than the manifestation of special industrial interests. Such specifications make the connectivity within the world’s network more cumbersome and expensive than with a true global standard. In full co-operation with the other Elected Officials, I shall therefore make it absolutely clear to all actors of the telecommunications industry that the incredibly complex global telecommunication network needs global co-ordination to maintain its quality and cost-effectiveness, and that the only viable organisation to effect such co-ordination is the ITU. A continuation of the current proliferation of standardisation forums (there exist at present more than 80 of them) would in the end only cause problems.

Telecommunications have, over the past years leaned more and more towards the spirit of a private enterprise and away from earlier governmental attitudes. As an intergovernmental organisation, the ITU had been dominated by the latter and is only now slowly adapting to the new environment – far too slowly in my view, and certainly also far too slowly for the needs of its Members. I shall bring to the ITU my hands-on experience as a CEO who has had to transform a governmental monopolistic operator into a modern enterprise, and shall assist in swiftly introducing a modern business and management approach.

I propose the creation of a new "Information Exchange Sector" which shall encompass all of today’s activities concerning the collection and dissemination of information, including but not limited to Telecom exhibitions and fora, statistics, benchmarks as well as development reports and other similar publications. This Sector shall be managed by a Director. I suggest in this context to replace the position of Deputy Secretary-General with that of this new Director. As this proposed Sector does nothing else but concentrate existing resources and work, there is no additional burden on the budget. It is on the contrary to be expected that thanks to greater synergy the cost for providing information services will go down considerably.

Last but not least, I shall do my best to make the ITU a lively meeting place where personal contacts are easily established, where global rules, standards and recommendations are prepared in the interest of everybody, and where relevant information flows freely to support governments, regulators, manufacturers and operators alike. Each of these groups is a partner with a specific role in the world’s telecommunication network. I shall do my best to have each play a corresponding role in the ITU. n

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